PHOENIX — In between innings of a fantastic but ultimately losing effort against the Milwaukee Brewers last season, Jhoulys Chacin looked across the field at the visiting dugout and noticed how loose his opponents seemed.
He knew many of the players already. A native Venezuelan, the Brewers' roster featured a number of his fellow countrymen, and when the opportunity presented itself to join the Brewers during the winter, Chacin saw his chance to join the fun — and chase a playoff berth.
He took advantage of the opportunity, signing a two-year, $15.5 million contract in January and is expected to slot into the starting rotation behind Zach Davies and Chase Anderson.
"When you watched this team play last year, you could see the chemistry," Chacin said. "I noticed it last year. There's a lot of Venezuelan players on the team so I followed them a lot. You can just tell how connected they are. It's easy to fit in here."
Chacin wasn't the pitcher Milwaukee's fan base was expecting after exceeding expectations last season. It was widely believed general manager David Stearns would chase some of the bigger names on the free agent market over winter, though he'd later down play the team's reported interest in Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta.
But at the end, Milwaukee opted to rely more on bounce-back years from some internal candidates — the next step in development from some of its young arms — a couple of low-risk/high-reward non-roster invites and Chacin.
"Earlier in his career, health was a little bit of an issue for him," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "But he's had some healthy, pretty consistent seasons the last couple of years and we think he'll be a very effective pitcher."
Adding Lorenzo Cain in free agency and Christian Yelich in a trade in January thrust Chacin's acquisition further to the background.
Chacin isn't complaining about the lack of attention.
"I really just want to do my work, help the team win games and make a playoff run," Chacin said. "Last year, they were supposed to be rebuilding but now, they want to win and I want to be part of that; I want to be one of the guys who helps the team make the playoffs."
He went 13-10 with a 3.89 ERA in 32 starts for the Padres last season. Making 16 starts at San Diego's spacious Petco Park helped those numbers greatly -- he was 9-3 with a 1.79 ERA at home and 4-7 with a 7.53 ERA on the road.
Still, Stearns and his staff were impressed by his 49.1 percent ground ball rate and giving up less than one home run per nine innings, an impressive mark even after taking the Petco factor into account.
Pitching in launching pads is nothing new for Chacin. He spent his first six big league seasons pitching for the Rockies. His numbers were respectable — 23-23, 4.48 ERA, 36 HR in 68 Coors Field starts.
To help with his adjustment to Milwaukee, Chacin has spent much of his spring working on his changeup a pitch he thinks can help him increase his ground-ball rate — especially against left-handed hitters.
"I'm a sinker-ball guy," Chacin said. "If I can throw a sinker down and away, or up and in ... and then changeup down and away, it's going to get more ground balls."
Throwing the pitch effectively should help those numbers but Chacin also stands to benefit from a Brewers offense expected to be among one of the more potent in the league.
"I remember (Christian) Yelich, his first game was against me," Chacin said. "I faced Travis) Shaw when he was with Boston and again last year when he was with Milwaukee. He's a tough guy to get out. I told him I'm glad I don't have to face him anymore.
"This is a pretty good team. We have good hitters and if the starting pitchers do our jobs, we're going to have a good team.”